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May 30, 2014

Vikings are happy: West Vigo takes first softball sectional in 10 years

NASHVILLE, IND. — Could it be that a softball diamond is the room without a roof?

West Vigo's Vikings and their — who were clapping along with Pharrell Williams on the Brown County public address system the last couple of innings — might agree that's the case, and after a 7-1 win over Edgewood for the Class 3A Brown County Sectional softball championship, they are certainly happy.

It was a sweet victory for so many reasons, and the school's first sectional championship in softball since 2004 was certainly one of them.

The fact that it came over Edgewood, of course, was considerable icing on that cake.

"We always know going in that Edgewood will be tough competitors," coach Cherish Easton said after the game about the team that kept her Vikings from an undisputed Western Indiana Conference championship and serves as a Viking nemesis in pretty much every sport. "But we came today ready to play.

"It's been a long week," Easton added. "We had the adversity of the [four] bus rides [in four days], the lightning delay, and losing our little Carly [Rice, a 9-year-old in the Viking youth program who was killed in an accident less than a week ago]. But we didn't lose focus."

Maybe there was karmic presence involved because of all that Viking adversity, because for once in the Edgewood rivalry it was the Vikings who got some luck.

On Friday it was Edgewood making the errors [West Vigo scored just one earned run, and even that one came with an error involved], and two of the Mustangs' best swings against West Vigo's Leah Morrison resulted in 250-foot foul balls.

All the more sweetness, from the Viking perspective. "Our losses have been because of [errors and bad luck] this year," Easton said.

Those foul balls were all the Mustangs had going for them for most of the game against Morrison, however. The sophomore struck out just three batters, but had the Edgewood hitters popping the ball up and yielded just two infield hits until two outs in the top of the sixth.

"Everything [was working]," Morrison said after the game. "My curve, my [screwball], my changeup and my fastball. I kept spin on [the ball] very well; I tried to tighten my grip on it [to get spin and induce fly balls]."

After Morrison's three-up, three-down first inning, she and her teammates got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the frame. A leadoff single by Kaitlyn Sollars and a one-out hit by Morrison put runners at first and second, and Shelby Edington's grounder was thrown away to allow the first run to score.

West Vigo left the other two runners on base, and stranded two in each of the next two innings as well. But the lead grew to 2-0 in the second when Morrison walked and came around on a grounder, a hit by Kenzie Little and a grounder by Brittany Voils.

"Our goal was to get ahead and stay ahead, and never get comfortable," Easton said after the game. "We tried to put all the confidence we could in our girls from the get-go."

Edgewood's first threat came in the top of the fourth, when a leadoff walk preceded the Mustangs' cleanup hitter and Steffi Farkas, who had already hit the longer of the foul-ball homers. Nicole Salyers sacrificed, but the Edgewood runner tried to go from first to third on the play and was retired when Charity Lane threw across the diamond to third baseman Lexus Elkins, who made a diving tag for the double play that brought Farkas up with the bases empty.

"I always get back to third [after charging the bunt]," Elkins said after the game. "I saw [the runner] and I saw she wasn't stopping."

Elkins also came up big the next inning, smothering a two-out grounder and throwing out the runner at first from her knees. "I don't have much traction with my cleats," was her explanation. "I've thrown out several people like that."

West Vigo padded its lead in the bottom of the fifth with Morrison contributing offensively again with a leadoff double. She took third on a wild pitch and, after a walk to Edington, scored on a throwing error as Edington executed a delayed steal.

Morrison had given up just a bunt single to that point, and she gave up another infield hit leading off the sixth. With two out, Sydney Brinegar got Edgewood's first hit out of the infield, but Salyers grounded into a force play as the tying run -- with Farkas on deck again.

Then the Vikings put the game away. Elkins reached on an error to open the sixth and scored on singles by Sollars and Baylee Waters, and with two out Edington extended her school home run record to seven with a line drive well over the center-field fence.

Morrison got four fly balls to left fielder Mary Curley in the seventh. The third of them cleared the fence by inches, as Curley ran into the wall, but the shutout wasn't important.

"We haven't won a [softball] sectional in 10 years, so I'm glad to be a part of it," Morrison said. "I love this team to death. I did it for the seniors ... and our fans, who were big support."

"I've waited ... so long for this," Elkins added. "This is the best memory of my high school career."

Chances for more memories come Tuesday, when the Vikings travel to Tri-West -- the defending Class 3A state champion -- for a one-game regional.

But if they'd win that one, they'd get another bus ride back to Brown County. That's the site of the June 7 semistate.

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